When I was training for the marathon whilst staying in Manhattan last March, I ran 100 blocks north from our flat in Chelsea to the middle of Harlem just so that I could get a bagel and coffee at a corner shop. After a week in Midtown, I was tired of tourists and bright lights. I wanted to see the authentic city, where people lug the rubbish down from a fourth floor walk up, where they carry the shopping home, walk to school, run for the subway.
This time, for our quick trip to have further meetings with churches across the boroughs, Amanda and I booked an AirBnb in Harlem. Her brother was deeply concerned for us, two white girls staying in the former crime capital of Manhattan, but actually, the people were really nice to us. One night, when it was raining, a young dancer walked us home under his umbrella.
The Airbnb was also fab – it had window sills big enough to sit in with a mug of coffee as well as a television and VHS player that reminded me of growing up in the 90s. When Mimi came to our place, we taught her how to play Jeopardy and work a VHS.
New York’s rhythm is different from London’s, and it took my some time to adjust myself to waiting on subway platforms with no signage to tell me for how long. What really threw me was the eye contact. When people meet your eyes on the streets, they don’t look away. It felt aggressive at first, but once I got used to being seen, I looked back. It’s nice to be acknowledged.
I love how small Midtown makes me feel. The buildings are massive and glaring, full of people, the pavements swollen with people rushing round, ignoring the spectacle. Everyone has a different plan and agenda. I like knowing that the goal that I am pursuing is one piece of a massive puzzle. Amanda and I stood on a corner in Hell’s Kitchen before one of our meetings, watching buses squeal into the Port Authority as a homeless woman pulled her three massive bin bags a few metres at a time down the street. There are so many narratives swirling at the same time, a multi-layered story waiting to be unwound.
This trip, I decided to try a slightly different photography style to my usual one. So when I saw two girls hanging out on the Upper East Side, I asked them if I could photograph them. They were actually quite keen (which also surprised me), and we did an impromptu photo shoot. Later in the afternoon, when an old woman caught me photographing her in the Village, she surprised me by letting me do a few portraits of her.
Once again, we walked from a meeting in Brooklyn across the Brooklyn Bridge to a meeting in the East Village.
We wandered through Chinatown and Soho, stopping in tattoo shops and grabbing a coffee at Columba near NYU. After the meeting, the kids and Johanna joined us, and we searched for a restaurant (I was keen for Korean BBQ, and luckily, we ended up at a fusion cafe that had everything under the sun). We also paused along the way to keep up with the work happening back home, and I took some photos of Mimi for her tenth birthday. Sometimes I cannot reconcile this young lady with the three year old in princess dresses that I met years ago.
It was a short trip, and I never managed to get the slow-shudder taxi portrait that I wanted, but I did get to spend time wandering the city with Amanda, having dinner with Chris and Johy, and organising next year’s International Arts Gathering, plus, I’ll be back next year.
Sometimes I cannot quite believe how easy it is to pop over to the States for meetings, then to slip seamlessly back into life here. This is a mad life, one I never thought I’d live, but I am so happy to get to discover the edges and corners of this hungry city and to know that next year, we come back as an army, and all of these trips across the ocean will show forth in beautiful light.